Bruce McCormack: Barth in response to Open Theism
by David W. Congdon
on July 3, 2008
Bruce McCormack recently edited a volume of essays by Protestant theologians on the doctrine of God, entitled, Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives. The volume is well worth reading, in part because of the range of perspectives represented in its pages—including everyone from D. A. Carson to John Webster. But the book is worth the price just for McCormack’s essay. His article, “The Actuality of God: Karl Barth in Conversation with Open Theism,” is a 57-page exploration of the claims made by open theism over against classical theism as well as the alternative which Barth provides to both of those metaphysical positions. As a way to whet your appetite for more, here is the opening of McCormack’s essay:
For nearly two decades now, the evangelical churches in America have been the scene of a polarizing debate between defenders of classical theism and the proponents of what is typically referred to as “open theism.” After reading through the growing literature generated by both sides, my own conclusion is that each has something important to say; each has “theological values” which would need to be preserved in any truly adequate doctrine of God. The trouble is that both sides are actually occupying a shared ground on which no resolution of the debate is thinkable. It is clearly time for some fresh thinking.
As the subtitle of this essay makes clear, the goal here is to bring Karl Barth into conversation with the open theists. The decision to treat Barth in relation to open theism rather than classical theism is not based upon a belief that he stood closer to the former than the latter. Far from it. As I have already suggested, both sides to the current debate stand finally upon the same ground—a ground which would have to be abandoned if the values now contained in each model were to be brought into a single, unified conception. Barth occupies a very different ground, and as we shall see, it is because he does so that he is able to take up and preserve the values set forth in each of the other two models.
In any event, Barth does not stand closer to the open theists than he does to the classical theists. The decision to bring Barth into conversation with open theism is based simply upon the perception that open theism is attracting a great deal of attention—to the point of disturbing the peace of the churches—and the belief that it is not dealt with adequately where it is met by power plays (e.g., attempts to exclude its proponents from membership in the Evangelical Theological Society). The only adequate response is to provide an alternative which is demonstrably superior to it—something today’s defenders of classical theism have consistently failed to do.
- Bruce L. McCormack, “The Actuality of God: Karl Barth in Conversation with Open Theism,” Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerAcademic, 2008), 185-86.
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Orthodox and modern: studies in the theology of Karl Barth